It takes two things to win the Rookie of the Year Award: talent and opportunity. Most prospects are not given enough playing time in the major leagues to have a realistic shot at the award. If a player has a starting job on Opening Day he is going to have a better chance than a player that gets called up mid-season. But sometimes a player can burst on to the scene late and put on a display that snatches the award from the early-season frontrunner.
The list of AL ROY contenders in 2012 is very strong compared to most years. There is an exciting crop of players that will enter the league this year and will be household names very soon. The pitchers lead the way but there are some powerful hitters that could snatch the award if the pitchers falter.
Matt Moore is likely to have a spot in the Rays’ rotation to start the season. He is also the most talented player eligible for the award this year. The Rays trust him so much already that they gave him a start in the playoffs last year and he delivered a masterpiece. He is a strikeout machine and is the most eagerly anticipated rookie pitcher since Stephen Strasburg. Moore is so good the Rookie of the Year might not be the only award he wins this year, even the Cy Young Award is a possibility for this precocious young hurler. Fernando Valenzuela is the only pitcher to win both awards in the same season.
Even though the 25 year old Darvish is not a prospect he is still eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award. Fellow Japanese leaguer Ichiro Suzuki won the award when he was 28 in 2001. Darvish signed a huge free agent contract to come to America and play for the Rangers this year and is expected to be the best Japanese pitcher yet seen in MLB. His track record, size and stuff are considered far better than Daisuke Matsuzaka’s were when he joined the Red Sox in 2007.
Montero was traded from the Yankees to the Mariners for stud pitcher Michael Pineda, which shows just how highly the Mariners think of him. Montero’s defense is not very good yet, but his bat is special. He had a great month of September with the Yankees last year. The move to the tough hitting environment in Seattle shouldn’t hold this excellent hitting prospect down. His bat will stand out anywhere. Montero will see plenty of playing time from day one and will be perfectly situated in the middle of the Mariners batting order.
Trout is a great 5-tool talent, but may begin the season in the minors due to the crowded outfield in LA. When he does reach the majors he will provide an elite combination of speed, contact and power combined with excellent defense. Compare him to Carlos Beltran or Grady Sizemore in their primes. There is debate regarding whether or not Trout actually qualifies for the ROY award due to the time he spent on the Angel’s roster last season. He did not exceed the allowable 130 ABs but his service time may have exceeded the maximum 45 days.
Turner will battle for a spot in the Tigers’ rotation in Spring Training. If he wins the spot he could challenge for the ROY. Some observers feel Turner has been rushed to the majors by the Tigers much like Rick Porcello was a couple years ago. Turner may need a couple seasons worth of experience before reaching an elite level of performance, but he is still capable of having a breakthrough campaign in 2012. He has a blazing fastball that reaches the upper 90’s on occasion and an excellent curveball as well. He is still working on his other pitches, which he will need if he hopes to become an ace starter.
Parker is another future star pitcher who could start the season in the majors. If he is sent back to the minors he won’t be there long. He is now fully recovered from elbow surgery he underwent in the Diamondbacks system before being traded to the A’s in the Trevor Cahill deal and is ready to take the majors by storm in the big pitcher’s park in Oakland.
7. Yoennis Cespedes — Outfielder — Oakland Athletics
Cespedes is a Cuban defector signed as a free agent this winter. He is a wild card in the ROY race because nobody really has a good idea how he will perform against major league competition. He has never played professionally even in the minors yet. He has a ton of talent and all the tools to be a star and he is already 26 years old.
8. Addison Reed — Relief Pitcher — Chicago White Sox
Reed’s candidacy for the Rookie of the Year hinges completely on whether he earns the mantle of Closer in Chicago. The White Sox traded former closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays, so there might be an open competition for the role during Spring Training. Matt Thornton is likely the leading candidate, but he failed in the role last year and is left-handed. Almost all closers are right-handed because managers prefer to use tough lefties situationally to retire the toughest left-handed hitters in critical situations in the late innings. Reed is likely to become the closer at some point, but will it be early enough to earn him consideration for ROY? Voters do like to vote for closers if one is available. Neftali Feliz, Andrew Bailey, Huston Street and Craig Kimbrel are closers who won the award in recent seasons.
There are plenty of other dark horse candidates that could make a surprise appearance on the ROY scene. Injuries could strike veteran players and give unexpected opportunities to some of the talented players in the minor leagues. There are lots of future stars waiting in the wings hoping for their chance to shine.